This comes from the 64 Damn Prompts on LiveJournal (by rashaka). I will, most likely, be working through all 64, because I can't bear to leave such a lovely thing unfinished. I will also include the song that helped me write it/find inspiration/that I thought fit the mood.
P.S.~ These were supposed to be drabbles—by which I mean 100 words—but my brain exploded, so they are not. Forgive me.
P.P.S~ In my head, someone seems to be permanently crushing on someone else, and forever getting his or her heart broken. No idea why. But, as the stories come out that way, I won't complain. So. Here we have yet another angst-ridden story, a little late because I was out of reach of a computer. Enjoy! (And whoever knows where the name Aramis comes from will be lauded. Seriously.)
Prompt 10: Lull and Storm
Music: Believe, by Cher
Etienne knows that, while he is many things, selfish is not one of them.
He's rash, impulsive, blunt, and so plainspoken that it borders on disrespectful—and there are probably many more adjectives that different people would apply to him, but no one he knows would call him selfish. Selfishness doesn't usually lead to fighting—and killing—three traitorous lords, godlike in their power, for people he barely knows, simply to keep everyone around him safe.
The last time he had been selfish, his entire family had died, simply because of the power he held.
After that, Etienne wasn't about to let his self-centeredness put anyone in danger ever again.
But, just for once, he wishes that he could be selfish, that he could go after something that he wants, for the sole purpose of possessing it, just because he wants it.
He won't, though.
It had had started gradually, gradually enough that he almost didn't notice—but, however oblivious he is to others' feelings (and he isn't quite as oblivious as everyone seems to think. Honestly, Madeline couldn't have been less subtle if she had tried), he's quite aware of his own. He had acknowledged his attraction to the other shapeshifter the moment he appeared in the tiny town where Etienne and Natalie were hiding, though that was a simple physical attraction and easily dismissed. Then, after they fought, after they nearly killed each other and recognized that they were in fact the same, his attraction had deepened to something like admiration and affection. It strengthened as they fought together against Hunters, other soldiers, and treacherous lords, until they stormed Lord Absolon's hiding place together and Etienne could no longer deny that it was truly love.
He is in love with Troy Broussard.
There isn't anything specific that makes him feel that way. He loves Troy's smile (broad and flashing strong, even white teeth), his laugh (boisterous, bubbling over with mirth and good humor), his grace (odd for someone so large and muscular, so much bigger than Etienne's slim form), and his ferocious intensity (in fighting, in practice, in conversation, everywhere). The brightness of his red hair, his sense of humor, his russet eyes, the faint hint of Eastern drawl that remaines in his voice, just everything.
And Troy never sees him as anything more than a friend.
Moreover, Troy is absolutely, hopelessly, utterly in love with Natalie.
And, if it isn't enough to watch Troy make doe eyes at her, the shapeshifter girl also happens to be the only one who's realized Etienne's feelings. She hadn't slept in his closet (and isn't that an ironic, uncomfortable turn of phrase, even if she was really only there to hide from the Hunters that were after her) for so many months without learning something about him, he supposes, but it's still awkward at times. Even so, having someone to be open and honest with outweighs the embarrassment, and Etienne is pathetically grateful that he has someone he can confess to, rant to, and commiserate with. Natalie is, indeed, a good friend.
It doesn't ease the pain completely, but it helps a bit, especially when Troy is being particularly unsubtle about watching Natalie and mooning after her. Natalie, for her part, is uncomfortable being caught in the middle of a love triangle, and uncertain of whether she should step out of the running.
But, because he isn't selfish—can't force himself to be, even for this—Etienne won't have it. He knows that she cares for Troy just as much as Troy cares for her, and Etienne isn't about to get in the way of that. Loving from a distance is all he's allowed himself, never getting too close, never stepping away completely so that Troy doesn't realize that something has changed.
It's agony, watching their slow, hesitant courtship and wishing with everything he has that he could be there instead. He tries not to be jealous of Natalie, or resentful of Troy, but he often can't help it, especially when the King's ruling allows the shapeshifters and other allies in the war to make a home in the Winterlands—on the condition that they also enlist in the army and take on the positions that have been left unfilled since Lord Absolon's desertion. Etienne hardly minds helping the other soldiers, or the other shapeshifters, but being forced into constant close proximity to the happy couple is excruciating. Before, distance had dulled the pain, but being here, with them, every day—it's like having a boulder on his heart, crushing it a bit more with each passing second.
But, because he can't bring himself to be selfish, can't bring himself to break into their bright, blissful world and darken it with unrequited feelings, he says nothing, and quietly watches over them as they fumble their way towards a working relationship.
He's been expecting it, really, ever since the first time he looked at Troy and realized his feelings for the other shifter.
What he hadn't expected, however, is the way the pain of watching them begins to fester a little more each day, or the growing distance he feels from everyone, which has been steadily increasing since his defeat of Lord Absolon and Lord Tomas (and despite the fact that he faced both of those traitors, a part of him is just slightly bitter that he didn't get to face Lord Randall, as well, because it took all three treacherous lords to ruin their formerly peaceful lives).
No one seems to notice his detachment, his reserve, though, and that just pushes him even farther away. He's the leader of a division, now, the Dragon Division, though most people call them the Suicide Squad for their reckless tactics—and Etienne is well pleased, because these crazy bastards suit him perfectly. They're well trained, well disciplined, and in constant awe of him. The other soldiers and unit-leaders are either resentful of his power, angry at his gaining such an esteemed position, or just plain insane (namely Lucien and Alexandre). The Winterland soldiers are also in awe, or terrified of his power. His only close friends are utterly caught up in each other. He is completely alone.
Slowly, day by day, Etienne feels himself growing just a little bit colder.
Soon, he thinks, there will be nothing left but ice.
Perhaps ice isn't so bad, Etienne reflects, plastering a delighted smile over his shattering heart and burning eyes. After all, it gives him the composure he needs for this confrontation—one that he should have, admittedly, prepared himself for long ago. But he hadn't been able to kill that last dreg of hope, that last slender thread of maybe, someday that had remained despite all evidence to the contrary.
"I'm really happy for you, Troy," he hears himself say—distantly, as though it is not him speaking at all.
Troy beams at him, and Etienne has to suppress the urge to grab him and kiss him, or punch him, or stab his bastard sword through Troy's foot. Pain echoes through his chest, remote but all too intense, as the redheaded shapeshifter laughs, a boom of pure joy and undiluted relief.
"Yeah," he agrees breathlessly. "I can't believe she said yes! We're gonna be a family, Etienne! She's gonna be my wife!" Overcome, he spins around the room in something vaguely reminiscent of Alexandre's drunken happy dance, still bellowing out that laugh that makes Etienne's heart hurt with want. "Natalie's gonna marry me, Etienne!"
Logically, Etienne knows that nothing will come of his feelings, even if he blurts them out right now and tells Troy everything that he has been feeling for the last three years. If anything, such an action would increase the distance between them, open their friendship up to awkward pauses and strange gaps that have never existed before. There is no benefit in being selfish now, no gain to be had from confessing anything.
Even so, Etienne has to clench his jaw and bite his tongue to hold in the words.
Unable, suddenly, to stand another moment of this agony, this proof beyond any that he is alone and will remain that way, Etienne stands and picks up his coat. He pulls it on, ignoring the confused and slightly hurt look Troy is sending him.
"Etienne?" Troy says suspiciously, almost warily.
Etienne manages to dredge up another smile and gestures to the clock on the wall. "Sorry, Troy, but I think I'm late for the officers' meeting for the Dragon Division. We'll have to celebrate later. Aubrey will kill me if I'm not there."
Even Troy winces slightly at the thought of Etienne's second-in-command getting angry. As much as he had loved his previous division—the Bashers, everyone else called them—Aubrey had agreed—as a personal favor to Etienne, which he never lets anyone forget—to become the Etienne's lieutenant. He had exceeded everyone's expectations, even those of Etienne, who had asked him personally. The former Basher is a genius at all things clerical or official—understandable, since he had been the one responsible, in most ways that counted, for keeping his former division running. He's doing well with the Dragons, Etienne thinks almost fondly, but his temper lets no one forget where he served before, and not even his commander is safe.
"All right," the redhead agrees easily, unaware of just how deep that easy dismissal strikes his friend. "Catch ya later, then?" He's out the door before Etienne can offer even a word of agreement.
Silence falls in the tiny apartment, and Etienne lets it, taking some sort of masochistic pleasure in the complete absence of hominess that he's managed to foster. The room still looks as untouched and generic as it had the day he moved in, and somehow even more barren. He hasn't touched anything but the postage-stamp kitchen and the closet-like bedroom, and those only in the direst of situations. The soldier's mess is good enough when he's hungry—even though it reminds him unhappily of the army back in the East and being an outsider there, too—and he has a cot in his office for the nights Aubrey doesn't chase him away from the Division.
Troy and Natalie don't know about his living arrangements. Hell, Troy's never been in his apartment before today, and he didn't notice anything when he was.
Somehow, that feels lonelier than anything else.
If Etienne is the storm, fierce and powerful and godly in its massive presence, toppling great lords without a thought, then Aramis is the lull, deceptively beautiful and peaceful, hiding a killing intent strong enough to bring down mountains. They seem like opposites, forever opposed, contradicting and counter-arguing each other's points in officers' meetings, one cool and calm and the other fiery and passionate. One fights hand-to-hand and the other at a distance; one holds honor above all else and the other holds loyalty. Etienne is the primal beauty of a hurricane, and Aramis is the breath before and after it, exquisite destruction and elegant death.
But they are far more similar than they are different. Both honor family, and love deeply. Both have lost someone dear, and changed themselves because of it.
Aramis considers this, watching the small, slim figure of Etienne Chevalier make its way around the edge of Lord Adrien's lake. It is a thought that has been in his mind for a while now, ever since he first looked at the one-time enemy and saw a powerful, competent man instead of a foolish boy with too much strength and rashness. Since the first time he looked at Chevalier and saw Etienne, a beautiful, desirable commander of the one of the fiercest divisions in the Winterlands.
There is no way he can go back to seeing simply Chevalier now, as much as he tries.
He has kept his sudden interest secret, of course. It does not become a sorcerer-general to pine like a lovesick maid. But sometimes, sometimes, he tires of the façade of emotionless, because he feels just as much as anyone, and can never show it. Only Etienne can ever make him lose his mask, can break the shell of ice around his heart and make him real.
Knowing this, it is all Aramis can do not to walk up to Etienne and confess anything, no matter their location or audience. Perhaps a large enough crowd will pressure the silver-haired captain into agreeing to allow Aramis to court him. Perhaps, if Aramis asks him in the middle of an officers' meeting, he will say yes.
More than anything, Aramis wants him to say yes.
It takes a while for Etienne to notice, but when he does, he is shocked.
General Aramis is…
Oh, it's subtle. Were he not paying such close attention—which he is, because Aramis is still one of the officers Etienne respects most, and his opinions on matters always influence Etienne's views, either for or against—then he would miss it completely. Aramis doesn't flirt like a young maiden, the type of approach that Etienne is used to, but like a man, sure of himself and certain of his station.
It starts with the boughs of apple blossoms on his desk.
They're waiting when Etienne gets there in the morning, having been kicked out a few hours previously to get some sleep in a planned rebellion by Aubrey and his other officers. The six branches are just sitting there, perfectly arranged in a glass bowl, filling the air with the sweet scent of spring. Aubrey swears that he has seen no one come in or go out, and as his desk is directly in front of the door and he flutters his eyelashes slightly when he lies, Etienne is inclined to believe him. There is no trace of another's presence in the air, which is even more astonishing, and nothing except for the apple blossoms to indicate a visitor.
Etienne writes it off as a mystery that he will not solve, and goes back to his daily routine.
The apple blossoms stay where they are.
Then come the other things, little gifts that are items Etienne has been needing or wanting, but has not secured or cannot secure for himself. A new belt to hold his hand-and-a-half sword, woven of the finest, strongest threads. A new calligraphy set, when he has been using the last commander's old one for months now. A bottle of what Alexandre assures him is incredibly fine brandy. A book on the history of the Winterlands. Fine green tea. A new Dragon Division seal.
The gifts are incredible, beautiful, expensive—and, above all, extraordinarily touching, because they mean that someone has seen Etienne, that they are watching and caring enough to learn what he does and does not have, what he absently reaches for during the day but does not find.
Maybe that is why his crushed heart revives, ever so slightly, whenever he finds a new gift left somewhere inconspicuous, but where he will be sure to find it.
He discovers that it is Aramis leaving them purely by chance, spotting the general magically vanishing from his office as he wakes up, out of sight, on his cot one morning.
It is stunning, shocking, and more flattering than anything Etienne can remember. He has never entertained romantic thoughts of Aramis, because he has been in love with Troy for so long, and because the grand Sorcerer-General of the Winterlands seems as untouchable as a distant star. But now, to see him do this, to hear the soft undertone of banter in their back-and-forth arguments, Etienne wants what Aramis can give him, wants the stability and certainty that Aramis wears like a heavy robe. Perhaps, with a man like Aramis, his heart will have a chance to heal and recover.
It is astonishing that, even though he has clung to the idea of Troy for so long, this small show of kindness, of interest, makes him willing to put it all aside and go to the one who will most likely make him happy.
He has not truly been happy since he left the Eastern Lands behind.
Somehow, Aramis cannot bring himself to be surprised when Etienne is waiting for him the morning he goes to deliver his next gift—a silk brocade jacket, this time, along with a request for Etienne to meet him under the apple trees in the grove just outside the town's walls. He places the silk-wrapped package on the desk that Etienne is leaning on and takes a half-step back, waiting to see what the young captain will do.
He expects disgust, or horror, or perhaps even regretful rejection.
What Etienne does is step forward and kiss him gently, one hand resting lightly on his shoulder. He tastes of crisp green tea and silky honey, with an undertone of power that is purely Etienne. When he draws back, his coral lips are fuller and slightly darker, and his amethyst eyes hold something close to gratitude.
"Thank you," he says, and Aramis instinctually knows that it isn't just for the gift. Etienne says no more, however, but instead hold out his hand and a wrapped package of his own. Curious, Aramis accepts the thing, and opens it—a scarf of the finest silk, folded into a neat square that displays the apple blossoms and leaves painted onto it. He smiles slightly, because it has been a long time since someone has given him a gift with Aramis in mind, instead of General Rousseau or Sorcerer Rousseau, and Etienne has obviously selected this for the man, not the general or magic-worker.
"You are most welcome," he responds, bowing his head slightly. Then, gathering the courage that has deserted him for the first time in memory, he asks quietly, "Etienne Chevalier, would you do me the honor of allowing me to court you?"
Etienne watches him for a few heart-wrenching moments, then dips his head in a brief nod.
"Yes," he answers. But his voice breaks slightly over the word, and he looks away, the words tumbling out more quickly, though they are still understandable. "I can't return your feelings right away. I'm…I'm in love with someone who doesn't love me back, and I can't get over them in a day, or even a month, but I will do my best."
Aramis is torn between incredulity that someone could have this strong, exquisite creature's regard and take no notice of it, and jealousy that Etienne loves someone who is not him. But he understands that this is sudden, and utterly unexpected, and allows for that.
"Very well," he agrees. "Regardless, I will win you over."
Etienne smiles at him, ever so slightly.
"Yes, I rather think you will."